We Need To Talk About Keqiang

David Cameron in ChinaThe Chinese premier’s entry into the Scottish independence debate offers an opportunity to ponder what yes voters are really rejecting.

Two years ago, David Cameron’s tête-a- tête with the Dalai Lama at St Paul’s Cathedral provoked China’s foreign ministry to accuse him of having “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs” and “hurt Chinese feelings”. Oddly enough, the UK’s media uniformly refused to spot the irony in the reversed situation this week, when Chinese premier Li Keqiang responded to a question on Scottish independence by saying that China wished to see a “strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom”. How things change.

Li is premier of a country known for keeping its pesky outlying regions in line through a combination of cultural dilution, media control and violent suppression when the first two fail. As such, he is more than a little problematic as a spokesperson for Better Together. This is not the first counter-intuitive situation to emerge during the Scottish referendum debate. We’re told that Alex Salmond is a nationalistic dictator in the making, supported by hordes of backwards-looking xenophobes. Then Salmond stands up in a UK swinging to the right and calls for increased immigration, and yes-voting Scots poll as more pro-EU than either no voters or the English. Confusing, isn’t it.

Despite the best efforts of the British media to paint it as such, the Scottish independence movement simply refuses to fit the paradigm of narrow-minded nationalism. The most prominent grassroots voices calling for independence remain stubbornly forward-looking, aspirational and inclusive in their vision. These voices include assorted social justice activists, artists, writers and musicians, and opinionated bloggers, from all walks of life and many different ethnic and national origins. They are united, above all, by a deep sense of dissatisfaction at the current state of British democracy and, in particular, the narrowly neoliberal scope of economic policy choices on offer. For many, the Scottish independence movement is about the possibility of democratic renewal and the opportunity to build a fairer, more inclusively prosperous society—a society, if you like, diametrically opposed to that of China, which is determined by the interests of powerful individuals and characterised by a trust deficit, rising inequality and other deep social problems.

So if Cameron wants to bring China into the debate, let’s do so. The political establishments of the UK and China have grown more similar in the twenty-first century than most British people would like to acknowledge. Where China has morphed from a communist dictatorship into a “responsive authoritarian regime”, with minimal distinctions between the interests of senior Communist Party officials and big business, the UK has been sliding towards a state of managed democracy, in which distinctions between the interests of senior politicians and big business have been eroding for decades. Ours is a structurally democratic country which is losing its democratic soul. As in China, British policy decisions tend to be executive-led and informed by think-tanks which often have close ties to parties or interest groups. Public consultation is employed as a PR tool to convince the public to accept the decision, not to genuinely harness the ideas and aspirations of the population. As a result, people frustrated with the direction in which British politics and economic policy are travelling can only “fume impotently”. Unless, of course, they reside in Scotland and have access to the panic button on September 18th.

Parallels can be found in China’s own back yard. Hong Kong is currently in a protracted struggle, not for independence but to retain certain civic freedoms as well as a distinct local identity which emerged in the late twentieth century. Hong Kong’s latest generation of youth activists largely became politicised through movements against “developmentalism”. This involves, for example, destroying historic landmarks or perhaps an entire village, without consideration of the views or needs of local residents, to allow government coffers and billionaire developers to profit from the construction of designer shopping malls, A-grade office space or unnecessary high-speed rail links which the vast majority of people will never use. Such an approach would have no place in a democracy, right? Not according to the current UK government, which is currently attempting to pass a bill which would move us in exactly the same direction.

A generation of political activists in Scotland are currently cutting their teeth on the independence debate, becoming more aware of how media bias works in the UK, and how public relations consultancies are used to manipulate the democratic process. Yet even before political tensions began to run high, many people had been alienated from British politics and primed for a social justice movement by the punitive austerity measures pursued by all three mainstream parties at Westminster, especially policies such as the Bedroom Tax which disproportionately affect poorer Scottish households. The anger is not just at the nature of such policies, but at the lack of consultation in their development and implementation. In one interpretation, the yes campaign has simply offered an opportunity to channel such frustrations into a constructive movement, one with real prospects for change.

Scotland’s yes voters and Hong Kong’s social activists both feature the odd extremist. Attracting negative attention in Scotland is a minority of bigoted and vitriolic nationalists to be found online, while many Chinese are offended by the small number of backward-looking Hong Kong protesters who raise the British colonial flag on the anniversary of the hand-over each year. Yet the mainstream of both movements are admirably civic-minded people who are reacting, in their own ways, against a high-handed approach to policy-making which favours elite interests over the well-being of the middle and lower income groups (or the environment). Both movements contain a strong vein of social justice, seeking to represent the voices of the disempowered.

Just before Li Keqiang’s brief foray into domestic British politics, his government issued a white paper designed to remind Hong Kong of its subordination to Beijing, and plainly ruling out a democratic future for the city. Mr Li’s voice holds no weight in a democratic debate, and David Cameron’s time with him might have been better spent in strongly urging him to respect the terms of the 1984 Sino-British declaration on Hong Kong’s hand-over to China, which are now being disregarded. Perhaps then, he might have earned a degree of respect among Scottish yes voters.



Susan Evans is an independent analyst with a long-term interest in Chinese politics, based until recently in Hong Kong where she worked first for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and then for a global media and research firm. She is a co-producer of a documentary film, Lessons in Dissent [http://lessonsindissentmovie.com/index.html], on teenage political activists in Hong Kong, and spent her maternity leave writing a blog called the Hong Kong Media Review. She moved back from Hong Kong to Edinburgh as the independence debate was reaching fever pitch, at which point it came to her attention that UK democracy was slipping backwards and she should probably pay more attention. She splits her time between family, work, writing and procrastinating.”

Comments (18)

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  1. Dr JM Mackintosh says:

    Tibet – China.
    Better together?
    No thanks.

    1. JC says:

      Quite right too! Tibet would be better off if was invaded, occupied, bombed, raped and pillaged by Western ‘humanitarian’ Imperialists or turned into a large U.S military base…..

  2. Abulhaq says:

    Li Keqiang would say that. Little local problems in Xinjiang and Tibet. Cameron appears to be approving the repression of minorities. If we vote no might we expect a mass plantation of loyal Daily Mail waving Englishmen to adjust the dishonorable deficiencies in our population?

  3. bringiton says:

    Both leaders of governments who do not pass the test of democratic credibility.
    Probably both leaders who do not care except in Cameron’s case,he is facing the outcome of a referendum to which he has agreed to accept the outome (so long as it is No).
    It is clearly no longer a matter for Scots alone to decide as Westminster rule may now be threatened by a few million voters.
    China,under it’s present form of government,would never allow this to happen and we shall see whether Westminster lives up to it’s word.

    1. JGedd says:

      Talking to a Tibetan student recently who had been studying in Inverness and came to the Yes stall to get some information on the White Paper. He told us that, in talking socially to other students in Inverness, he found that they were mostly No voters. It surprised him since, coming from Tibet, he couldn’t understand why having been offered the chance of actually gaining independence merely by voting, that Scottish people would want to reject it. A.salutary encounter. There were two other nationalities present taking part in this conversation, as well as Scottish, and all were agreed that it was strange that people should wish to hand back the chance to run their own country.

      1. MBC says:

        We haven’t been oppressed in the same way.

      2. Abulhaq says:

        depends on your definition of the term. There is so much in the course of Scottish history that mirrors the way the British, with the able assistance of “Scotch lackeys”, managed their empire; creating divisions and assiduously exploiting them and encouraging a psychological dependency being at the top of the to-do-list. The Chinese government has very successfully “fragmented” Tibet and also encouraged Han settlement to dilute the population. It has certainly disparaged the indigenous culture as primitive, all rather familiar. We have not yet reached the settlement situation in Scotland but the former stratagems have certainly worked as the Tibetan student’s comments re the students indicates. Shame on those people.

      3. Illy says:

        Yeah, Westminster have been *sneaky* about it.

  4. MBC says:

    ‘Managed democracy’ – that’s it in a nutshell.

  5. Paul Carline says:

    No democracy – neither “structural” nor “managed”. It’s “pseudo-democracy” – the pretence that the voters decide how the country is run (through their unrepresentative “representatives”), when in reality the only ‘democratic’ power they have is to elect another bunch of ‘managers’ (primarily representing vested interests) once every four or five years. Imagine buying a car and then being told that you couldn’t actually drive it anywhere – you were only allowed to come to the showroom and sit in it for one day every five years and maybe listen to the radio.

    Parties no longer offer real choices and are therefore redundant. It’s widely recognised that there’s only one party in the USA. It makes no difference whether you vote Republican or Democrat. Both parties are controlled the military-industrial-banking and finance-media complex. The poor have no voice. Is it so different here? Politicians have very little room for manoeuvre. The EU is essentially a colony of a disguised empire, led by the US with total backing from UK and other EU governments. How many know that the US has a “combatant command” called EURCOM (European Command) and another called AFRICOM (and seven more)?

    Scottish independence could in theory upset the apple cart – if radical foreign and domestic policies were chosen and implemented here. That’s what is troubling the globalists.

    1. JGedd says:

      A Tory MP many years ago ( might have been Michael Heseltine? ) called our system an elective dictatorship on the basis that you would vote roughly every five years for a government which comes into power and may or may not implement the manifesto by which it gained power. If said government reneges on any, or even all, of its manifesto promises or brings forward legislation not put before the electorate at the time of the election, there is nothing the electorate can do until there is another election.

      I agree with you that there are outside interests closely concerned with what is going on here and would rather have states controlled by governments all allied to those interests and achieving managed consent in their populations – which, as you say, virtually describes the present EU.

  6. Paul Carline says:

    The point is that we should really stop using the words ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ to describe the political system here and almost everywhere else. We shouldn’t be propping up a lie by qualifying it with cautious adjectives – like ‘structured’ or ‘managed’. The whole charade needs to be exposed for what it is – a con.

  7. Mike Sivier says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    My own view on the Scottish referendum is that I want the UK to remain united. However, I’m not averse to posting an opposing view.
    In particular, I was interested by the following: “The UK has been sliding towards a state of managed democracy, in which distinctions between the interests of senior politicians and big business have been eroding for decades. Ours is a structurally democratic country which is losing its democratic soul.”

  8. jaypot2012 says:

    I’m English and live in Scotland – I lived in England for 30 years, North Wales for 17 years and now Scotland for the last 8 years. I think I have a different perspective to most Scottish voters as I have seen such a difference between them.
    The things that I see about Salmond is the fact that he has pride in his country and his countrymen and women – I see that in the people as well and I am very humbled to be able to vote in such an historic event.
    I don’t see pride in England or in the coalition party, Cameron, Clegg and an awful lot of the public, and I never felt it either.
    Wales is different and I hope that they get more devolved powers and eventually become Independent from England, (Westminster), London, as that is all that matters to any party who gain power and become the government. The Welsh are a proud people as well but I find that a lot have lost that pride and are slowly becoming more like England.
    I don’t know if we will gain Independence or not, if we don’t I can see our NHS being stripped down and sold along with various other things. But I do believe that if it’s not this time for Independence then it won’t be far away as the UK is sinking and is becoming more third world – one of the richest countries on Earth and yet they don’t and won’t look after their people – in Scotland they do, but they are limited with many things and can only get them by voting yes.

  9. jaypot2012 says:

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    China should keep out of it as there own people are repressed…

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